The Unexpected Cost of Social Media: Engagement Takes Time but Is Worth Every Penny

May 14, 2020  •  Marketing Strategy

You’ve probably heard someone say, “Social media is free marketing.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

While platforms like Facebook and Twitter charge no fees to use them, any brand that takes social media seriously will devote hours to it every week. This adds up to serious money.

When productivity means money, why would you devote hours per week to an intangible medium like social media?

The Cost/Benefit Guessing Game

“You have to spend money to make money.” The old adage still rings true because we’re comfortable with the principle. For example, we know that for every dollar a brand spends on email marketing, it sees an average return of $38. The cost/benefit analysis on email is a no brainer, making it easy to devote a few hours to each week.

Social media muddies the waters. Technically, social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn are free marketing opportunities for brands (even though they offer paid advertising services—but that’s another conversation). As you devote time to, and possibly get a little distracted by, your social feeds, the hours can quickly slip away. But there is no clear cost/benefit connection to this time like there is with email.

Brands Thrive on Intangible Investment

Pick up your smartphone and hold it in your hand. Notice the finely beveled edges and the way that little curve makes the phone feel a little more connected to your hand. That one detail, one of hundreds like it, cost additional time and money to design and manufacture, yet Apple or Samsung likely cannot define how much of their profits are owed to this feature. Yet, if your smartphone had hard edges and corners, it wouldn’t be as comfortable to hold, and likely wouldn’t sell as well.

Intangible investments have real value if they improve perceptions of your brand. The quality of the air freshener in a waiting room. The appeal of the art on your office wall. The effortless organization of a well-designed document. Small details add up and dramatically increase customer loyalty.

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Social media has unprecedented power to shift perceptions of your brand—for better or worse. Social media is a vital part of your platform, and it is vital you do it well.

In lieu of the tangible cost/benefit analysis, these are five clear benefits to incorporating social media into your brand platform:

  1. Accountability. Every day that you choose to create great content, engage with others, and build your online community, you become more invested in the passions, dreams, and projects that got you started in the first place. Social media is an ongoing reminder of where you are going and why you do what you do. You also have the accountability of an online community who keeps you on track because they can watch what you’re up to.
  2. Thought Leadership. Regardless of your business or industry, you need to stay up-to-date on trends, events, and news. Social media makes it really easy to track with the leading voices in marketing, social media, web technology, and church leadership. The presence of gifted peers will help you elevate your own thought leadership and challenge you every day with new ideas, information, and strategies.
  3. Help. Whether it’s troubleshooting your latest parenting crisis or figuring out new and innovative ways to use Pinterest, your online community is there and willing to help. Your audience loves transparency and will welcome the opportunity to speak in to your questions.
  4. Real-Life Connections. Social media will introduce you to awesome, like-minded people in a way that was once only possible at a conference. You never know which follower will become a meaningful new connection or even a life-long friend.
  5. Opportunity. Social media takes the guesswork out of what works in your industry and what doesn’t. Identify new opportunities to serve your customers and come up with product offerings that are sure to scratch a serious itch in the market place.

Can you put an exact dollar value on each of these benefits? No. But your brand would certainly be worse off without them. It’s time to get social. Plan it, schedule it, and join the conversation your target customers are having right now (or don’t).

About John Meese

John Meese is the author of the #1 bestseller Survive and Thrive: How to Build a Profitable Business in Any Economy (Including This One). An entrepreneur himself, John is on a mission to eradicate generational poverty by equipping entrepreneurs with the tools and training they need to build thriving businesses from scratch. He is the founder of Cowork Columbia, co-founder of Notable, and regularly publishes interviews and insight at